Alt-rock goddess Kristin Hersh has been making music for over twenty years. The co-founder of the Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave and the woman behind five hypnotic and beautifully crafted solo albums, she has been cited as an influence by everyone from Thom Yorke to Michael Stipe.
Featuring Hersh’s equally talented step-sibling Tanya Donelly in the original line up, the Muses’ edgy, striking sound was, along with that of the Pixies, arguably responsible for the whispered verse/shouty chorus structure that has characterised so much recent rock music.
Though Donelly left in the early 90s to pursue other projects (she was theforce behind both Belly and The Breeders) the Muses remainedtogether as a trio until financial pressures finally forced them to split. Atthis point Hersh turned her attention to her solo career. Having alreadyreleased the acclaimed acoustic Hips And Makers (1994) – possibly her finestmoment – she began recording increasingly personal tracks for a succession ofsolo albums.
A mother of four, her songs touch on maternal themes in a way thatfew other artists do. Her mental health problems and her marriage also crop upin her stream-of-consciousness lyrics that frequently ascend into poetry.There’s a sense with Hersh’s music that her songs need her to write them; thatthey beg her to sing them; that she’s not completely in control of the process. A feeling she articulated best in The Letter, thecomplex and haunting stand out track on Hips And Makers. “PS: Keep themcoming”, she asked of her muse, and so far it hasn’t let her down.
On her later solo efforts, Sky Motel (1999) and Sunny Border Blue (2001), itwas evident that this was a woman torn between the raw simplicity of makingmusic with minimal acoustic accompaniment and the need to turn up the volume.Last year saw her reform the band, producing a new self-titled album Throwing Muses (2003) andtouring as the Muses once more. Now new project Fifty FootWave sees her return again to the full on sound of the Muses, reunitingwith bassist Bernard Gorges, and acquiring fresh blood in the form of drummerRob Ahlers. Released earlier this year, the Bug EP (2004) was a six songstatement of intent: Spiky guitars; crunching riffs; her distinctive voiceburied in a wailing wall of sound.
There’s hardly a shortage of female singer-songwriters around these days, ofwomen willing to strum their troubles to whoever will listen, but Hersh’shonesty and maturity set her apart. Nearing forty and showing no signs offlagging, her sound is constantly evolving, and from what we’ve heard ofFifty Foot Wave so far, there are plenty of good things still to come.